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29 January 2010

Waiting for Blair: the scene outside the Iraq inquiry

It is like a circus as protesters and journalists await Chilcot's star witness.

By Sophie Elmhirst

Circus-like. That’s probably the best way to describe the QEII Centre this morning as we wait for Tony Blair to arrive to give evidence to the Iraq inquiry. Or perhaps more like a Roman amphitheatre, the crowd baying for blood.

But if we’re honest, the crowd — a band of banner-waving protesters — are far outnumbered by the combination of police and photographers. They’re valiantly making as much noise as they can, but hemmed in as they are by the phalanx of officers, parcelled off to the side of the centre, they can’t really get much momentum going.

The security is on a different scale from previous days at the inquiry — to enter the building, you have to pass through endless checks, scans, police and press officers. And that’s just to get into the press pen, next to the inquiry room itself, where we’ll watch Blair give his evidence on screens. It’s a bit like a football match.

Blair, apparently, is already in the building, having left his house before 7am to arrive at the QEII without the scrum that Alastair Campbell faced. There were even decoys, some say — cars approaching the front of the building while Blair crept in the side entrance.

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Other news is that Blair won’t make an opening statement or present any kind of document (in Jack Straw style). It will all start, as normal, with a question.

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